Daisuke Matsunaga completed a straight hat-trick of 20kms wins in the 42nd Asian Race Walk Championships at Nomi, Japan, by a comfortable margin on Sunday (18).
In fact, the race as a competition was over by 12kms when the Japanese who will be 23 next Saturday, broke away from a group of five to all but stroll the rest in perfect conditions.
The championship has been subject to near freezing weather in the recent past. But on a new course akin to the standard 2kms loop favoured by major races, Matsunaga used the opportunity for a speed session rather than the super-hard effort he made just a month ago at Kobe in the Japanese Championships.
His time then was an eye-watering 1:17:46, and even that was only good for third behind Eiki Takahashi and Toshikazu Yamanishi.
Both were absent in Nomi, allowing Matsunaga something of a Groundhog Day and a 1:20:55 finishing time - more than three minutes, or the best part of a kilometre behind his Kobe clocking.
Japanese team-mates Fumitaka Oikawa, Isami Fujisawa, Takumi Saito, alongside former winner Hyunsub Kim from South Korea and Georgiy Sheiko from Kazakhstan reached 5kms: 20:15, and then went even slower to cross the halfway point in 40:38.
Things got slightly more interesting a couple of kilometres later when Matsunaga stretched his legs to put a couple of metres between himself and the rest, and from there the gap grew steadily.
At three-quarters, the eventual winner was timed 1:00:45 - and 20:07 for the fastest 5kms split, with Oikawa second at 1:01:17 along with the rest of the leading group chasing the minor placings.
Matsunaga was smiling long before he crossed the finishing line, and what this victory does say is that Japan has a depth of talent that will sooner or later garner a major race walk win.
Considering the world record is held by Yusuke Suzuki, claimed here at Nomi three years ago, the country hosting the 2020 Olympics has half a dozen top walkers who consistently duck under 80:00 minutes - and none look ready to forgo the dream of winning a gold medal on home soil.
From a distance, Oikawa lit the afterburners in the last 5kms (20:15) to come home in 1:21:32 and someway behind him, Kim discovered some of his old form to notch bronze in 1:21:52 and get the better of Sheiko by five seconds.
Duan dominates women's race
The women’s overall race provided a predictable win for the 2014 IAAF World Race Walking Cup junior winner Duan Dandan.
The Chinese has a personal best 1:28:37 from last year, but barely broke sweat to reach half way in 46:57, more than a minute better than Indian athlete Ravina.
Duan eased to a near pedestrian 24:10 for the next 5kms, allowing the Indian to make inroads on her prodigious lead.
However, the Chinese still had 31 seconds to play with, and did just enough to make sure the gap was comfortable all the way to the finish line for 1:35:12.
Ravina came home in 1:35:35 thanks to a steady pace throughout in contrast to Duan’s more erratic splits.
Japanese Yuki Oshizumi charged after Duan at the start, and soon regretted it, but still held on to take overall third in 1:35:52.
The official Asian Championship gold went to Duan, with Korean Yeongeun Jeon mounting the podium for silver in 1:36:33 and Japan’s Kaori Kawazoe, third, in 1:37:47.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF